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The Downed RQ-170 and Hezbollah

by John Reed on December 7, 2011

This could be pure speculation but it’s worth pointing out. Iran claims to have downed an RQ-170 stealth drone intact using electronic warfare techniques. Just last month, the Wall Street Journal reported on rumors that Hezbollah, Iran’s proxy in Lebanon may have captured an Israeli drone using similar techniques.

No one can recall the last time that an Israeli drone malfunctioned over Lebanon and crashed, and there were no reports of antiaircraft fire. The Israelis have said nothing. Neither has Hezbollah, the Lebanese militant group and arch foe of Israel. The [UN peacekeeping force in Lebanon] is now abuzz with speculation that Hezbollah may have found a way of electronically disabling drones.

If true, the Iranians and their allies would have to have figured out how to break into the UAV’s encrypted satellite communications or use some sort of magnetic pulse to fly the planes electronics. Doing so would require “a tremendous leap” in technical ability from 2008, when Iranian-backed insurgents in Iraq where tapping into unsecured video feeds from American drones there, as one source tells DT.

Still, as Trimble points out, Iran just received the 1L222 Avtobaza radar jammers designed to detect and jam side-looking airborne radars, targeting radars in air-to-ground missiles, and an aircraft’s terrain following radars. Its ability to mess with the guidance systems of air-to-ground missiles would be very useful in defending against UAVs. While this system might be operational in Iran, it’s a stretch to think that this tech has already been shipped more than 600 miles from Iran to Lebanon in time to down the Isreali drones. Also, the Avtobaza is fairly old technology that might have a hard time against 21st Century stealth jets like the RQ-170.

Meanwhile, reports claiming that Israel is deliberatley crashing its UAVs in Lebanon counter the notion that Iran has developed and shared the key to taking over its enemies drones remotely.

From the UK’s Telegraph newspaper:

Mr Silverstein quotes an Israeli source with “considerable military experience and IDF military intelligence” claiming that the drone was crashed deliberately and that Hizbollah militants fell for the so-called Trojan Horse trick.

In his version of events, Shia militants discovered the fallen recognisance craft and took it back to their base for investigation. Israel is aware that Hizbollah has been working for more than a year to gather sufficient intelligence to enable their engineers to scramble Israeli surveillance technology.

In the Shia militants’ eagerness to analyse the prized drone, however, the fighters failed to detect an explosive device concealed within it, which was detonated remotely on Wednesday evening.

So, it’s still unclear if there’s any connection between Iran’s claims of downing an RQ-170 — Tehran has yet to provide proof they have the UAV — and speculation that Hezbollah used EW to down an Isreali drone. Still, it’s worth paying attention to.

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